Constantly outperformed by the girls' club, the boys' soft tennis club faces disbandment due to their poor skills and lack of positive results in matches. In desperate need of members, Toma Shinjou is looking to recruit capable players, but he fails to scout anyone. Enter Maki Katsuragi, a new transfer student who demonstrates great reflexes when he catches a stray cat in his classroom, instantly capturing Toma's attention. With his interest piqued, Toma ambitiously asks Maki to join the boys' team but is quickly rejected, as Maki doesn't wish to join any clubs. Toma refuses to back down and ends up persuading Maki—only under the condition that Toma will pay him for his participation and cover other club expenses.
As Maki joins the team, his incredible form and quick learning allow him to immediately outshine the rest of the team. Although this gives rise to conflict among the boys, Maki challenges and pushes his fellow team members to not only keep up with his seemingly natural talent, but also drive them to devote themselves to the game they once neglected.
This story focuses on the potential of the boys' soft tennis club and their discovery of their own capability, while also enduring personal hardships and dealing with the darker side of growing up in middle school.
In the recent past, there have been an influx of media portraying stories in which the characters tackle social issues, some successful, some unsuccessful. Most of them do invoke some sort of emotion from the viewers because at least some of the scenarios in them do have a realistic aspect which people can relate to.
Hoshiai no Sora is more of a drama than a sports anime. The sports aspect of the shows is more of a background theme while the core of it portrays how our characters manage the problems they face in their daily lives. I started watching this anime after 3 episodes
had already aired, and watching those 3 at once had me excited and anticipating a very, very good sports drama anime that had a fair bit of realism.
And it didn’t disappoint. Well, for the most part of the show at least. The problems with Hoshiai no Sora began to surface once it was revealed that each and every one on the main and supporting cast had problems with their parents in one way or another. It was intriguing to watch the two main leads face their problems and develop in the first few episodes, but as the show went on, the backgrounds of the other characters surfaced, and that was when the show began to go downhill for me.
The soft tennis club of the Shijo Minami Middle School is underperforming and on the verge of being disbanded even though their captain, Toma Shinjou, is an extremely dedicated and gifted player. As Maki Katsuragi transfers to their school, Toma, sees that he might be the one to change the fortunes of the club, and not just save it from being disbanded, but also make it good enough for them to compete in tournaments. Much to Toma’s dismay, Maki has no interest in soft tennis at all, and neither does he have the time. Toma eventually managed to “buy” the services of Maki by promising him money to play, and he agrees. This might seem desperate from Toma, but the boys’ team seriously sucked. Their team is so bad that they constantly get thrashed by their girls’ team, granted the girls’ team are national champions. Thus, begins their quest to get the boys’ soft tennis club revitalized and competing in tournament while facing their own personal issues.
The plot had me fascinated instantly because it was a breath of fresh air and miles away from “unsuited for a particular sport main character has certain good skills that he uses to compete against better suited (usually taller) players” narrative. The drama just added an extra layer of intrigue to it. We had a duo of competent main characters who each had their own reasons for playing soft tennis, faced problems that actually did make sense and had brains, not just skill in the sport.
But after 6 or so episodes, I realized where the anime was heading. By then, it was revealed how most of the cast faced various problem at home. A few characters having some problems with their parents? Interesting and believable. All the characters having problems at home? Unrealistic with too much drama that wasn’t required in an anime that had so much going for it already.
Let’s start off with the main lead, Maki Katsuragi. He’s recently moved into a new apartment with his mom and transfers into the school. From the very beginning, he’s shown to have unbelievable reflexes, managing to adapt to soft tennis like fish to water. He’s an all-round guy who’s not just great at physical activities, but also has a shrewd mind. The only problem he has is that his father is a good for nothing bastard who only comes home once in a while to get money. He’s very close to a Gary Stu but he does have a couple things even he has issues with. I enjoyed watching him to be honest simply for the reason that most sports anime protagonist are the same: dense, thick, stupid, and have something they’re great at while being short.
Then, the deuteragonist, Toma Shinjou, the captain of the soft tennis club. He’s talented at the sport but he struggles because soft tennis is a pair sport and the soft tennis club doesn’t have the perfect pair for him. He too, has problems at home, although this time, it’s with his mother. He doesn’t have too much else worth mentioning but he does form an interesting dynamic with Maki.
Kanako Mitsue is a girl in Toma and Maki’s class who also stays in the same building as Maki. She’s an unsociable girl who spends most of her time observing people and calling the boys’ soft tennis club for putting in effort and failing. She develops a nice chemistry with Maki, and it’s nice to watch her grow closer to the club, and put in some effort for them.
We’ve then got the rest of the soft tennis club in the cast, and all of them have issues with their family. One has a mother who had traumatized him in his childhood, one finds out he lives with foster parents who had adopted him, one is non binary and this isn’t accepted by his mother, one has an overprotective mother while the father only knows how to work and didn’t take his parenting classes in school, another has a father who doesn’t accept him playing soft tennis, one has parents who’re so deluded that they tell him that if he loses, it won’t be through no fault of his own but because he had a shitty partner, and lastly one has a step mother who doesn’t like him.
This is the problem with the show. I was loving Hoshiai no Sora until most of this was revealed. Even then, I still liked the show as a whole but come on, you can’t expect me to take anything like this seriously. The drama was nice when 3-4 characters were shown to have problems while the others seemed to be helping them overcome those. But when everyone in a sports club has problems with their parents, then it starts to become a problem for the show.
The art is very neat and I loved the style but the animation left a lot of holes. The sports scenes in matches are very poorly animated. I say this because none of the matches in the entire show had a continuous animation scene. It was all broken down into one side then the other. You’ll understand what I mean if you watch a full match. Sports anime do require good animation and this was an area that definitely failed to impress. The OST and OP/ED are good without leaving an impression on me. Overall, I think the production could have been better but I don’t like to complain too much about it. As I’ve said, Hoshiai no Sora is more a drama/Slice of Life than it is a sports anime and maybe the studio produced it keeping that in mind?
Hoshiai na Sora is a story of wasted potential. The plot was very unique and had me excited for the most part of the season, but the unrealistic drama really killed it. It tried too hard to be realistic and this was the product of that. Would I recommend this? Yes, and no. If you want to watch a sports drama with a slightly different setup, give this a try. If you can't stand overdramatic shit, you should probably stay away from this.
Hoshiai no Sora could be a gem. I must admit that this series differs from other sports series thanks to its realistic setting and its themes. This series will talk about dysfunctional families, domestic abuses, difficulties about social pressure and also gender identity issues. For these reasons, Hoshiai no Sora can not leave you indifferent, whether you agree or not with the purpose of the anime, i think this show is at least thought-provoking
Hoshiai no Sora is not really a typical sports anime. Sports is not the main theme but a way to develop characters, their interactions and their evolution. Anyway, Hoshiai doesn't follow the
way of most sports shounen. No, there are no idealized dreams with characters wishing to achieve perfection and become the best in their sports. You will understand with the synopsis that Hoshiai doesn't have this intention.
Unlike their female colleagues, the boys' soft tennis club fails to achieve positive results. Meanwhile, Maki Katsuragi, a new transfer student, shows great reflexes when he catches a stray cat. Toma Shinjou, the soft tennis club captain, realizes Maki's potential and asks him to join the club. Maki does not want to join any club but following repetitive requests, he accepts if Toma pays him for his participation and club expenses.
Maki joins the club and finds that the members of the club aren't very motivated to work. The pairs are inefficient during games and the members don't have a good chemistry. Maki is completely inexperienced but learns very quickly. The other members are both surprised but also jealous and irritated by Maki's behavior.
It is true that Maki is very frank and can seem abrupt. So he brings many changes to the club. He works mainly on strategy and observes his opponents to decide the best strategy, so he gradually gains consideration from his teammates.
Regarding the other characters, most of them are highlighted and have a few important moments, whether during their club activity or outside of school. For the most part, they are at first very little motivated but gain confidence with the effectiveness of Maki's strategies.
There are also characters that don't belong to the club and that get a significant screentime. The most memorable being Mitsue Kanako who is probably one of the most intriguing characters in this series. We don't really know why she assists the club without being a member (No, the manager is not a girl this time !) but you will regularly hear her edged comments throughout the series. We could quickly consider her as a creepy depressed girl but I can assure you that her development is just as interesting as her personality.
This series also showcases their life outside the club. It was really nice to see the characters outside of the sports environment. Since they are not only people obsessed with sports, but like you and me, these characters also have the worries of everyday life. And I have to admit that even if the ideas are very interesting for the most part, their integration is not really satisfactory.
Indeed, this series contains many, many dramas. There are so many that it becomes predictable. After half of the series, you quickly understand that each character will have his drama at some point in the series. Unfortunately, 12 episodes are not enough to develop dramas for all the characters in the best way.
The storytelling is therefore awkward, we have the impression that the dramas follow one another without logical connection. The original creator, Akane Kazuki, seems to have written a story too long for 12 episodes. Thus we have a lot of dramas with no real resolution. For example, Maki's father, he was quite present at the start of the series. Shinjou even threatened him so we could expect a possible quick confrontation. I won't reveal to you but it is probably one of the most frustrating conclusions. And I can give you other similar examples with other characters. Some characters' backgrounds make feel me indifferent because the characters don't have a significant screentime. I don't have time to feel involved in fifteen characters' dramas in this series. And please, stop the post-ending drama scenes. Doing it once or twice can be surprising but it becomes too repetitive and they give the impression of cheap dramas.
Hoshiai no Sora could be an excellent series but the drama was too excessive that I felt less and less involved.
(Regarding the end, it is obvious that it gives up many subplots and the last drama is frustrating. I guess Akane Kazuki wanted more episodes but the production committees probably limited to 12 episodes.)
Technically, we have a solid production. The most memorable point is probably the ending. The animation and the choreographies are fantastic (but please don't forget to warn the choreographers before using their works !). The animation of the series is excellent, especially on services and receptions during games. But I regret that we get little information regarding the ball directions, so it is not easy to understand the whole game.
The soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to dramas although my favorites are the piano songs.
In the end, Hoshiai no Sora was a refreshing experience. Showing characters outside the sports setting allowed us to explore very interesting themes, but I would have liked to feel more interested in dramas which unfortunately are omnipresent and turn out to be more boring when you see that any secondary character from this series also has family problems. In 12 episodes, it wasn't enough to develop everything, the storytelling was over the top on the second part. If you want similar experiences, I would recommend that you read or watch works by Mitsuru Adachi that perfectly combine three genres: slice of life, drama and sports. Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru could also interest you. And if you are curious about gender identity issues, you can watch Hourou Musuko or read Shimanami Tasogare.
"I never wanted to watch this mess"
— Me, after watching the last episode of this show
THIS REVIEW CONTAIN SPOILERS
(TL;DR at the end)
Since the last year, I have been trying to find that one anime every season. Yeah, maybe you know it: that one who has "Source: Original" in his description, flies under the radar for the most viewers who prefer sequels of the already popular shows, and have a potential to become something unique. Original anime means that you don't need to try to adapt 50 chapters of the manga or 4 volumes of the light novel into 12-episode format, to create original ending or
give your anime no ending at all, to cut a lot of storylines and the character development from the source material — because the source material for this one is only the imagination of the scriptwriter. And, honestly, I hate it. I always hate when original anime with a curious premise disappoints me. RErideD, Fairy Gone, Bem, Tokunana — all of them have decent ideas in their basis and horrible realizations of them.
Of course, HoshiSora (or Stars Align in the English version) is a lot better than all those abominations, but it is still not enough to become something enjoyable. Pilot episode from this "Fall 2019 sleeper hit that isn't your average sports anime" was really well-done and gave me high hopes for something fresh in the sports genre — but this show became an average slice-of-life with horrible forced drama really soon. Sad bad true, once again. So, what went wrong?
In the first episode, we meet our main characters. We have a school soft tennis club — a bunch of losers with the useless coach and zero motivation to improve themselves, the leader of this club, Toma, who already in despair because he can't change anything, and Maki, transfer student and a potentially good player with a talent who can become a savior for a team. Sounds like a generic sports anime, right? Maybe, but the direction of this episode was really great. Conflicts between Toma, his team, and a school council, dialogues between Toma and Maki ("pay for play"), first interactions between Maki and neighbor girl — all of that was really well-done, with the usage of "show, don't tell" rule and some direction tricks. Add a pretty good animation, comfy music, and, of course, surprising ending with Maki's abusive father - and you will get the best pilot episode of the season. What this show will be? A "not your average sports" anime? A realistic drama? A romance between Maki and that girl whose name I don't know? I was excited and asked for more... and got this.
Realistic sports anime? Not really. After joining the team, Maki suddenly becomes literally a god of soft tennis. One practice - and he already knows how to play. Two — and Maki/Toma pair destroys all other club members. A few days - and in the ep 2, he becomes an actual leader of the team and a great strategist. He provides a manager to a club, he already knows how other members of the team must play, what tactics they should choose, their strong and weak points and how to improve their results - and yeah, it works! All the players in the club suddenly started to play a way better — and in the match against one of the top soft tennis schools in the prefecture (episode 5-6), the soft tennis club is playing with them like they are equal!
Really, scriptwriters? Yeah, I can understand why Maki became a solid player after only a few pieces of training. Maybe, he is a genius, he has a talent or something like that — yeah, cliche, but why not. However, how Maki suddenly received his strategical skills? In the pilot episode, we've got that Maki and his mother have moved numerous times before because they've been trying to escape from Maki's abusive father. So, a guy who don't have any close friends (because he changed a lot of schools), who was often bullied by his father (domestic abuse, yay), who is unsociable (episode 5 and how Maki speaks with Toma in his house)... actually becomes a coach and a psychologist who knows all weak points of his team and how to improve it? How to speak with all members and how to train them? Are you kidding me? And yeah, all problems in their playstyle were successfully resolved because of Maki. He is a genius! He is perfect! He is... just a typical Gary Stu, honestly.
And what about the "pay to play" idea? I thought that Maki will be talented, but an unsociable player who doesn't care about this team, who acts like "I play just for the money". Or, for example, money for the game will become a drive who develops relationships between Maki and his father. What have we actually got? Nothing again. Maki is already a very friendly player who always helps the team, so in ep 5 was the last time when this idea was mentioned, the same as the Maki/Kenji relationships. After the fifth episode and Toma's defense, Maki's father just went out of the house... and never come back. Great job!
Exciting tennis matches? Not here again. All members of the club weren't revealed at all (except our main pair Maki/Toma), so all of their matches look like "undeveloped characters vs cardboard opponents". Add here the fact that tennis (especially pair soft tennis) isn't as exciting as more traditional sports in anime (football, basketball, etc), and all that you got is just some dull matches between bland characters. Nothing interesting and nothing awesome, most of the matches (except maybe some Maki/Toma ones) was simply a boring mess.
Maybe this show is not a sports anime, but a heavy teen drama? Yeah, right. It's a teen drama — one of the laziest and annoying examples of it that I've ever seen in anime. All parents in HoshiSora are abusive and hate soft tennis. Every member of the club just has a random dramatic background. One of them is illegitimate, second has step-mother who abuse him, third has a helicopter mom who hates tennis, fourth has mother who poured boiling water on him when he was a child... drama, drama, drama, a bunch of random conflicts that haven't any development at all because this show has only 12 episodes and that's not enough time to successfully solve them. All of these conflicts just don't bother me at all — "Oh, another forced drama and another abusive parent's background story, how interesting". Because of it, all the characters in this show (except Maki and Toma) seem so bland that I even hadn't remembered their names. Random LGBT themes? Child abuse? Also here. Because what else do we need for the forced drama? Seriously, even Akame ga Kill's deaths were way more dramatic and touching than any of the background stories about these characters.
A romance? Mmm... we have a girl who likes to watch tennis and draw something about it. She exists. That's all.
We have a student council president. She also exists (we even saw one random flashback about her). That's all.
LGBT romance? Well, one of the characters is gay. Why? Just because. That's also all.
Maybe it's a slice of life anime? Yeah, most of the SoL moments were really well done. Good animation, comfy visual style, relationships between Maki and Toma, Maki and the girl, the team and their opponents are actually the best part of the show. However, even those moments don't make the show better. After a comfy moment, we got another forced drama. After well-done dialogues between characters - another shitty dramatic flashback. Nothing enjoyable here again.
Hoshiai no Sora is just a trainwreck. It has cute animation, some good slice-of-life elements and interactions between members of the club, fine music (op and ed), but all of that was ruined by shitty forced drama, incompetent writing, and Gary Stu as the main character.
Wanna see good tennis anime? Watch Teekyuu, it has a way better character development.
This show truly has the definition of "don't judge a book by its cover", because it ain't just a sports anime, but one that is rife with the daily affluences of family drama and matters that's spread all over it. And knowing director Kazuki Akane on this show's influence taken mostly from his creation of "Noein" and planning this original story for over a decade, I'd say that while this has caused A HELL LOT of backlash, like Satoshi Mizukani's Planet With, the end result is truly the icing on the cake, whether you'd decide to take it literally or not, I believe that what
Akane-san wanted out of it, he truly accomplished it to its feet with his unorthodox method of storytelling.
You must be wondering why the title literally says "Stars Align", but it's Kazuki Akane's way of foreshadowing that no human is ever perfect, and we're like the stars of the sky, when life beats us down harsh, the common interest in question (soft tennis) aligns us in the thread of fate, that is adolescent trauma (which happens to be his favourite theme). Being grown-ups, the world that they know is never a bed of roses, so the harsh reality of families growing through the different pangs and uncertainties must know how to counteract on their very own. While the school/soft tennis club part is there to help expose and alleviate their true natures of the sufferings going through with parental disabilities, or expectations as simply you would call it, all kinds of nature are laid in bare sight. What these adolescent teens (i.e. Maki, Toma and the others) must do is not to take that emotional attachment and let it be the ridiculing point of their lives, but rather, no matter how much understanding others may have on their struggles, it's the reconciliation that leads to the amalgation of their feelings and work it out to experience their joy (which again, is in the soft tennis club) as an output.
And to this point, all the dysfunctional boys in the Shijo Minami Boy's soft tennis team, budding artist but introverted and bullied Kanako Mitsue, and Kinuyo Kasuga the student council president, all face different but similar parental dysfunctions that affect them both physically and mentally, but not without some help from the same outside community that was once split but now bonded with understanding and acceptance, to push past their fears and limitations to be the best they could be. Even the worst of issues have a silver lining that despite how much relentlessness was given, any amount of joy would overcome the overglaringly terror and rebuild it into something special. All were alone, but the least of forgivings were not enough to separate each and every single member to reunite and conquer these harsh battles together.
Studio 8-bit's visuals have never looked so better, especially with the soft tennis matches that seem to glide by every so often with the amount of exceptional precision and realism. While the overall stance is decent, the character designs are one that pops out in the slew of recognizing who's who and what's what, being that informative for reasons I cannot fathom, but with the puzzle pieces put together, paints a canvas that excels better than my initial thoughts about what this could be. Light-hearted visuals but not without the more serious moments (a.k.a parent-child arguments) make this one of those shows that stand out for reasons.
And speaking of the music, I do enjoy the music and sounds of the show, with some realistic voice acting in the parental issues and OP and ED (of which the former comes VERY often), playing into sound design of the show that's just well done IMO. Always been a fan of Megumi Nakajima's music and this OP shows, while the ED's music is also good, and the dance...let's just say that copyrighted material needs to be attended to foremost.
More than just a realistic drama-ified anime, Kazuki Akane's Hoshiai no Sora brings one important point to start and end its story: "Wherever you are in life, everyone goes through thick and thin, and it takes two hands to clap, so grab a partner that can help spur each other's life forward and achieve things you couldn't have imagined you'd accomplish." Love it or hate it, Stars Align truly will forever be misunderstood under Akane-san's direction, but for those who got the gist of it, make your life count, and keep moving forward.